So wrote Célestin Lainé (then known by his 'Breton name' of Neven Henaff), recalling his fateful decision in 1922 to engage in a career of militant opposition to French rule in Brittany, at the age of fourteen. By the time these lines were composed years later, Lainé was regarded by most in his home country not as a nationalist liberator, but as an uncompromising and enthusiastic Nazi collaborator who led scores of young Bretons into exile, to imprisonment, or before a firing squad in the name of Breton independence and the perceived right to ally militarily with any power that opposed Paris, however odious, immoral or reviled by the majority of his compatriots.
These memoirs are presented here both in English translation and their original French. In them Lainé tells his own tale of how he came to embrace Breton nationalist politics in general and, perhaps most importantly, how he believed his personality and experiences led him onto the militant path in particular. In their original form they comprise 65 typed or printed pages, and detail Lainé's spiritual, intellectual and political evolution from his earliest recollections to his posting to the French artillery school at Fontainebleu as a second-lieutenant in 1931, shortly after the establishment of the small nationalist 'physical force' group Gwenn-ha-Du (White and Black).
Apart from isolated remarks throughout the text, these memoirs do not explore Lainé's later, more overt nationalist militancy nor his 'alliance' with the Germans during the Nazi occupation of France from 1940 to 1944 (Figure 1). References to the "Formation Jean-Marie Perrot", better known by its Breton name, the Bezen Perrot (which operated in a counter-insurgency and auxiliary policing role as a nominally Breton 'independent military formation' under the command of the German Sicherheitsdienst during those years) are infrequent.3 Terminating as these memoirs do at the very beginning of the 1930s, there is also no exploration of the subversive activities of Gwenn-ha-Du throughout that decade, including the planning, execution and political ramifications of the destruction of the Franco-Breton Union monument in Rennes in August 1932.
What we do see here, however (albeit late in the document), is the establishment of Gwenn-ha-Du as an organisation. Its slow and cautious evolution-in addition to Lainé's growing distrust of Gwilherm Berthou, a nationalist associate-is evidence of the care, patience and method the nationalist leader sought to apply to his political projects from the beginning of the period covered. Scholars of the organisational lineage of Breton militancy will note Lainé's unequivocal disavowal of any relationship to the group known as Kentoc'h Mervel (Sooner Death), which earlier histories claimed he had established in concert with Berthou in 1929.4
There is little doubt that Lainé was a singularly driven personality. The Breton autonomist, author and fellow exile in Ireland Yann Fouéré remarked to me in interview in 2005 that the charismatic young nationalist leader had clearly possessed "un fil directe au Dieu le Père" (a direct line to God the Father).5 Louis Feutren-Lainé's comrade in the Bezen Perrot, close friend in Irish exile, and custodian of these and related papers after Lainé's death-recalled him as "brilliant. He was original. He was a good friend, and he helped everybody who needed help. [...] He was a guru for younger people, like myself"6 (Figure 2). Throughout these memoirs, the impression is created of a singularity of purpose; of a young man with an almost messianic vision of his destiny as a soldier in the cause of Breton national liberation, through which he progresses in a manner he perceives to be logical and unflinching. This is, of course, a singularity of vision recalled a posteriori; retrospectively projected, perhaps, upon those elements of Lainé's earlier life that support this interpretation of his development and influences. Compromises, delays, and equivocations in the pursuit of this vision are presented as concessions to others, the result of intercessions by loved ones, or the consequences of sheer chance. Events that support Lainé's sense of his predestined role-even if entirely random, such as the drunken prattle of a sailor at a railway station, or the chance encounter of an old monument on a medieval battlefield-are elevated to manifestations of destiny; a destiny in which, remarkably, Lainé appears to believe even more firmly after the war, with his nationalist dreams in tatters, his memory cursed by the vast majority of his countrymen, and his projects arguably further from realisation than ever before.
Even among Lainé's peers in the Breton nationalist movement, there appears to have been little faith that the former militant leader would one day break his silence regarding the historical events of the interwar and wartime periods. Consumed with questions of Celtic spiritualism (and perhaps mindful of what Feutren informed me was "the taboo of the Druids against the written word"),7 Lainé had generally appeared willing to cede the writing of his own history to authors such as Ronan Caerléon and Anna Youenou. When in 1977 he was at last motivated to take issue with elements of Youenou's lengthy work Fransez Debauvais de Breiz Atao et les siens8 in the pages of the Celtic League journal Carn, the League's General Secretary Alan Heusaff noted with evident interest that this was the "first time" Lainé had offered his own version of events, and it was hoped he would go further. 9
Early in the northern summer of 2005 I also interviewed Per Denez, a leading figure in the Breton linguistic movement, at his second, seaside home east of St.-Malo, Brittany. He too expressed disappointment that Lainé had not sought to explain, if not justify, his nationalist activism, let alone his later collaboration with the Germans and its consequences. Denez believed Lainé had a duty to Breton history, which he had abrogated by engrossing himself in esoteric spiritual questions:
I acquired a copy of these memoirs from a family member of the Bretons in Ireland a short time afterwards. However apposite Denez's characterisation of Lainé's religious ideas, we can now see that the nationalist leader had at the very least attempted to acquit his "serious responsibility in Breton history", even if the document attached does not extend to that most crucial period of wartime occupation, collaboration, and the activities of the Bezen Perrot.
Louis Feutren further informed me during an interview conducted at his home in Bray, County Wicklow, the Republic of Ireland that same summer that he had many of the former Bezen leader's papers in his possession, and was authorised to keep, publish, complete or destroy them as he saw fit.11 Feutren later permitted me to employ some of this material, including photographs of himself and fellow Bezen members in SS uniform which had never before been published (Figure 3). This was done with the proviso that the images would be credited to the 'Bezen Perrot archives' and not to himself, as he "disliked [his] name being spotlighted".12 Two separate bequests were later made of these holdings, it appears: the first in 2008, while Feutren was still living, to the Celtic and Breton Research Centre (CRBC) at the University of Western Brittany, Brest. The catalogue of these papers [PDF] mentions memoirs in addition to correspondence and similar items. A very recent article by Sébastien Carney focuses upon Lainé's relationship to the Breton language, making extensive use of a number of his autobiographical writings held at the CRBC-including, evidently, a copy of those reproduced here.13 No doubt scholars of Breton and Celtic nationalism will continue to employ these newly-available primary materials, and the memoirs attached here may be seen as a contribution to that general effort.
A second bequest was made after Feutren's death in November 2009 to the National Library of Wales. This excellent institution has long functioned as something of a de facto Breton national repository as well, given that there is no official analogue in Brittany. It was here that I found a good number of the primary sources related to Breton nationalism of the 1930s and '40s which appeared in my book Fugitive Ireland. Feutren's choice of the NLW was therefore a sound one and not without precedent, and the catalogue of the papers bequeathed indicates that many of them originated from Lainé, as well as other Breton nationalists in Ireland who had belonged to, or been in some way involved with, the Bezen Perrot or the wartime Breton movement.
Consideration in the last will and testament of a former wartime collaborator generated controversy for the NLW, however, with Feutren's additional bequest of the sum of £300,000 exciting the attention of the press in November 2011. Welsh heritage minister Huw Lewis declared, "I am [...] disappointed by the decision of the National Library to accept these funds and do not believe that anyone in Wales would have challenged them if they had chosen not to accept the bequest." He further hoped that the funding would go towards the creation of exhibits that would "highlight the terrible impact of war, intolerance and fascism".14
Whether Breton nationalists of the wartime era were indeed fascists or national socialists remains a point of debate. Nationalists insist they simply put Brittany first, and allied themselves to the power most able to defeat and potentially dismember France, and thus deliver them national liberation. Lainé himself addresses this point on p.107 of these memoirs, seeking to suggest that the term 'fascist' is one employed by his opponents to discredit the movement to which he belonged. It must be noted, however, that he does not unequivocally refute the charge:
The record of Breton nationalist collaboration during the German occupation-both of the SS-uniformed Bezen Perrot and other, smaller Breton collaborationist groups-is however remembered by the majority of older Bretons with a blend of outrage and repulsion, whatever the professed political motivations of those concerned. Had the Bezen and similar groups acted as a body and purely in the Breton national interest, "guarding trains" or something similar as Feutren claims was the original intention,15 then its legacy might perhaps be viewed differently today. Subject as they are to allegations that some among them participated in torture or even mass executions of Resistance suspects, however, it is perhaps not surprising that in some Breton-speaking areas the older generation does not laud the struggle of nationalists in the name of Brittany and freedom, but rather is said to remark, "Breizh Atav, mat da lav" (Breiz Atao, good to kill).16
As for Lainé himself, there is clear evidence here that his singular commitment to militancy led him to adopt a political position predisposed to fascism, or at least an accommodation with it. His rejection of intellectualism, his contempt for the "war of words" as opposed to "action" and "Science"17 are all indicative of the contemporary militant zeitgeist on both extremes of right and left, born of the respect for physical force so brutally demonstrated in the First World War, the Russian Revolution and Civil War, and (perhaps most influentially for Lainé), in Ireland with the Easter Rising of 1916 and the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21. Carney notes too the impact upon Lainé of the novel L'île du Solitaire by Maurice Champagne (1924), in which a scientist seeks to impose his will upon the world. "The young reader", Carney observes of Lainé, "imagines [...] setting up a Breton state with the aid of a Breton army made all-powerful thanks to science".18
Coming to regard Germany as the power with greatest interest in defeating and dismembering France further fuelled Lainé's fascistic drive, assisted also by connections with the Alsatian and Flemish movements in France-themselves influenced by their Germanic cousins across the Rhine.19 Acculturated as he was with traditional French germanophobia, the account Lainé gives of his disconnection from France and subsequent attraction to Germany forms an especially interesting theme in these memoirs, as the nationalist leader seeks to explain why he felt France had forfeited his allegiance, while simultaneously refuting charges he was a German stooge:
There is evidence here also of a casual anti-Semitism in Lainé's writing: a reference, albeit brief, to students at the College of Sainte-Barbe during his stay in Paris, who were, he writes, mostly "Parisians and Jews, clever as monkeys" (malins comme singes).21 He further quotes a Breton priest who rants against the "Jewess" Saint Anne being accorded the status of patron saint of Brittany, but this is presented almost in quizzical amusement, complete with "(sic)".22 By contrast, Lainé tells of a "Tunisian Jew" who joins Breiz Atao. He appears surprised, certainly, if not somewhat amused by this adhesion ("one can see many things at Paris", he remarks), but there is no indication he opposed the man's admission on racial, religious or other grounds.23 This, then, is no anti-Semitic diatribe along the lines of Mein Kampf. It is certainly claimed, however, that Lainé denied the Holocaust in the decades after the war. "After a while, one avoided the subject with him," notes historian and author Peter Berresford Ellis24 (Figure 4).
The manuscript itself is undated. Carney, in his recent article, cites the source of the copy now held by the CRBC as "autobiographie 1946".25 Other fragments of autobiography in that collection, according to his references, are dated 1953 and even 1941. If one accepts these dates, these memoirs were apparently composed before Lainé arrived in Ireland in December 1947, while he and the inner circle of the Bezen Perrot were hiding in Germany. If so, it seems that the nationalist leader was extremely conscious of his historical legacy, and sought to exercise some measure of control over it at a remarkably early juncture... even if that effort cannot reasonably be judged a success.
Lainé died in Ireland in 1983, and it may be observed that the majority of the manuscript is typed (complete with carets and corrections in ink), while middle sections appear to have been printed by the type of dot-matrix printer in widespread use from the early to mid-1980s. It is possible that all or parts of the text were typed (or retyped) later by someone other than Lainé, perhaps at his dictation, or from a handwritten manuscript. There are repeated spelling mistakes of organisations and personal names with which one assumes Lainé would be familiar, such as Bleum [sic] Brug or Gerhart [sic] von Tevenar. There is also a page numbering error in the original manuscript, which jumps from 22 to 24 with no loss in text.
As much as has been possible and practical, the sense, mood, tone and wording of the French original have been preserved in the English translation. In this task I have once again been ably and invaluably assisted by Guillaume Legros, who patiently assessed my efforts and corrected them where necessary-which was often. His knowledge of the French education system and its jargon was especially valuable, given that schooling and examinations form a good part of the recollections here contained. I of course assume full responsibility for any and all errors in translation, but these are very much first-draft writings, which Lainé doubtless would have sought to rewrite and edit himself before publication. Where Lainé launches into turgid lecturing, we have allowed him free rein. Where he refers to French gentlemen by the English title "Mr.", we have allowed that to stand uncorrected, indicating as it perhaps does the impact of decades of exile upon Lainé's thinking, even when writing in his native French. Whether such errors appeared in the original manuscript or are the result of later mistakes in reproduction is unknown. The poem 'The Universe' is attached scanned from the manuscript, as the original is in English (see Appendix B). It is worth noting that the Heussaff sisters, Anna and Kintilla, told me in an interview conducted in 2005 that their father Alan's conversations with Lainé (or Neven Henaff, as they knew him) were commonly neither in French nor Breton but in English, owing, they believed, to the many philosophical works Lainé was reading in that language at the time.26
The Biographie-Memoires is neither an elegant nor even always a compelling document. But for one who repeatedly rejected intellectualism; who no doubt shared (if not originally inspired) Louis Feutren's consciousness of the Druids' literary "taboo"; who was criticised by his peers for failing in his historical duty to account for his actions, it forms a significant and valuable addition to the primary literature on Breton nationalism of the interwar period. As many of those I interviewed in 2005 are now deceased-Per Denez; Louis Feutren; Bríd Heussaff; even the stalwart Yann Fouéré, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 101-these memoirs of Célestin Lainé, aka Neven Henaff, may contribute to an improved understanding of a tortured period of Celtic and European history that is now rapidly fading from living memory.
1 The original manuscript comprises 65 pages total, and is undated. See Introduction for further details.
2 See p. 65 (English version).
3 See for example p. 87. For more on the Bezen Perrot, see Daniel Leach, "Bezen Perrot: The Breton nationalist unit of the SS, 1943-45", e-Keltoi: Interdisciplinary Journal of Celtic Studies, Vol.4 (Nationalism), pp. 1-38, published 6 Feb. 2008; and Kristian Hamon, Le Bezen Perrot: Des Bretons nationalistes sous l'uniforme allemande (Fouesnant: Yoran Embanner, 2004).
4 See p. 108. Cf., for example, Kristian Hamon, Les nationalistes bretons sous l'Occupation (Kergleuz: An Here, 2001), p. 153.
5 Yann Fouéré, interview with author, St.-Brieuc, Brittany, 3 June 2005.
6 Louis Feutren, interview with author, Bray, Co. Wicklow, Republic of Ireland, 8 June 2005.
7 Feutren, letter to author, 6 Sep. 2005.
8 Anna Youenou, Fransez Debauvais de Breiz-Atao et les siens: Mémoires du Chef breton commentés par sa femme. 5 vols. (Rennes: Imprimerie Générale, 1974). Youenou was the wife of Fransez 'Fañch' Debauvais, leader of the Parti national breton (PNB) until December 1940.
9Carn: A link between Celtic nations, no.19 (Autumn 1977), pp. 8-9.
10 Denez, interview with author, St.-Benoît-des-Ondes, Brittany, 2 June 2005.
11 Feutren, interview.
12 Feutren, letter to author, 2 Oct. 2005.
13 Sébastien Carney, "Célestin Lainé et le breton: la langue pour le combat", La Bretagne linguistique, Vol. 16, Nov. 2011, pp. 151-197.
14 See Steven Morris, "Welsh library criticised for accepting Nazi collaborator's money", The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/02/welsh-library-accepts-nazi-collaborator-money; accessed 18 Dec. 2011.
15 Feutren, interview.
16 Hamon, Bezen Perrot, p. 169.
17 See for example pp. 64, 72 and 83 and 101.
18 Carney, "Célestin Lainé et le breton:", p. 156. See also p. 64 of these memoirs.
19 See Daniel Leach, "'A sense of Nordism': the impact of Germanic assistance upon the militant interwar Breton nationalist movement", European Review of History/Revue européenne d'histoire, vol. 17, no. 4 August 2010, pp. 629-646.
20 See p. 53.
21 See p. 97.
22 See p. 98-9.
23 See p. 99.
24 Peter Berresford Ellis, Re: Neven Henaff: Notes for Dan Leach, unpublished Word document, e-mail correspondence with author, 22 September 2003, p. 2. Ellis knew Lainé (as Neven Henaff) in London in the 1960s, when they were both involved in the publication The New Celt.
25 Carney, "Célestin Lainé et le breton", p. 152.
26 Anna and Kintilla Heussaff, interview with author, Dublin, 21 June 2005.
Biographie-Memoires, By Célestin Lainé (Neven Henaff)
"Tell me how you became Breiz Atao." This is one of the first questions I am in the habit of posing to young people who come to my door. The response is always interesting, as much for the content as for the tone, the delivery and the attitude of the party concerned. In many cases, this first inspection is enough to procure a sufficient idea of the utility of the potential initiate. I do not know who it was who wrote that one cannot judge a person by a single act; it is truer still regarding words said or even oaths uttered, and yet more again if it concerns declarations related to that which the individual believes concerning political dogma or other things. It is also true, however, that every act, desire, thought or physical particularity of a person embodies their entire personality for those with keen eyes.
Those that I look for must have good eyesight; they will not therefore be indifferent when I tell them how this happened to me.
1. "Catholique et Français toujours..."1 (Well-known hymn)
From my youngest years I was taught that I had the glory to be French and the luck to be Catholic; that all that was French was the most perfect from every point of view and that the Catholic religion was the only true one.
Little by little I learnt that there existed scandalous French who were not Catholics and unlucky Catholics who were not French, and even poor wretches (I dared not qualify them otherwise) who were neither Catholic nor French. As for these latter, the grandest service one could do them was to help them-by military force, if necessary-to elevate themselves to the status defined above. It was in their interests, even if they did not realise it, and at the same time increased the glory of France and of Catholicism. This was incontestably the will of the Good Lord who wanted the best for everyone, as everyone knows. It was Progress. It was Necessary and Inevitable, as History had taught from the time of Jesus Christ and Hugues Capet.2 And the planet would have attained perfection when all the non-adherents of France and of Catholicism were assimilated, converted or exterminated. Such was the profound belief anyway-real even if unconscious-of nearly all French Catholics. I learnt also that Frenchmen and -women spoke French, and that they had a Tricolore3 flag at home which they hung out on July 14th like my grandfather did, on Joan of Arc Day like many more people did, or on both days like a much smaller number of people did. Then Catholics said their prayers and committed sins, for which they obtained absolution by going to confession.
Even so, I quickly observed something quite obvious: most people in Ploudalmézeau4 communicated with each other by means of an incomprehensible language, and a good number of them-even the cousins in my family-I was unable to talk to because they did not know French. Their language was called Breton. Grandfather, grandmother, our aunts and my mother spoke with each other in Breton. They even spoke it with each other in front of us. Each Monday (which is the fair and market day in Ploudalmézeau), this intriguing language invaded the house and the family so totally that I felt isolated and reduced to the sole society of my brothers. The men of the countryside, moreover, wore wide hats with ribbons; the vast majority of the women wore long shawls and white coiffes5 like my grandmother and my aunts, but not like my mother. This was the Breton costume. There were therefore many people in Ploudalmézeau who did not speak French, did not dress like French people should and did not have a Tricolore flag at home.
"Grandfather, why do people speak Breton?"
"My little children, you must not speak Breton! It's the language of ignoramuses! Myself, I didn't start to learn French until I was twelve years old and went to school, because my mother didn't know a word of it. And I've had all my life to regret not knowing it well enough. Also, I don't want you learning Breton, I forbid you to speak it, and to go out and play with the other children here. Breton is the language of pigs."
I therefore had the idea that there were various sorts of French, just as there were brown cows, white cows and piebald cows. Ignorant French spoke Breton and dressed in Breton fashion. They were in the majority in Ploudalmézeau but in the minority in Brest; they were the peasants, the fishermen, the maids and the servants. Next, the French who had some education were more or less magpies in their language and costume. Finally, the superior French, a relatively rare species, were the French whose parents had prevented them from learning Breton when they were young. But all were French because Ploudalmézeau was in France, as was Brest; the same as Saint Lunaire, Papa's home region, and that of Nantes, my home town, and further afield still.
Such was my national conception up to the age of six years, and it remains so for many of my compatriots.
As concerned religion, I quickly saw that things were not as simple as I had been taught. Was Grandfather Catholic? He refused to make the sign of the Cross, did not say his prayers and did not sin. How could one imagine that Grandfather could sin? Grandfather took me by the hand to the strand at Treompan and to go see the boats at Porsall,6 he lifted me up so I could pick mulberries, he carried me on his back when I was tired and to go look for nests on the moors of Lesvorn. Beside him one had nothing to fear, neither from people, cows nor dogs. He taught me interesting things and amusing games. He always had sweets in his pocket. If a nightmare woke me in the night he would come to lie beside me and could send me back to sleep without fear by taking my hand. Never a threat, never a punishment, regardless of what I had done. It is clear that in goodness he surpassed most of my relatives and the Good Lord, that unlike them he had nothing in common with the gendarmes, the nettles, the dogs or the prickles. How could one conceive that one such as this could be wicked, even for an instant? How could one conceive he could sin? This was supported yet further by the fact that he had never needed to do penitence, he never went to confession, nor even to church. Yet he was not a saint since he did not have the golden circle around his head and he never wore the floating blue and red clothes which were the costume of those Messieurs one could see on the stained-glass windows of the church in Ploudalmézeau and even elsewhere. That was a little strange. It became agonising when I learnt that the people who did not attend Mass and displayed contempt for priests were reprobates destined to burn in Hell for eternity. My logic did not yet permit me to consider the case of Grandfather individually from those anonymous reprobates in the catechism. This was for me a worry and soon a torment. It was to me unbearable to know him to be in such great danger when he himself had the air of ignorance about it. I did not want to leave for fear that the Good Lord would take the opportunity to separate us. I made plans to convert him. I planned to say: "Grandfather, you don't think of going to Hell, but even so, just think if it were true!" I was timid, and dared not. This prolonged torment provoked my first revolt: "Oh well, I want to stay with Grandfather! If the Good Lord is so nasty as to send him to burn with the devils, I'll say: Then me too! Too bad for Heaven! I want to stay with Grandfather! I'll grab his hand hard and we'll run so fast that the hottest flames won't catch us, and he'll whack the devils who get too close and if they succeed in touching Grandfather I'll jump over them, I'll scratch them, I'll bite them, I'll tear them to pieces! Between the two of us we'll account for them. If not, too bad! I won't abandon you, Grandfather..."
One day all the same, I dared pose the question to my mother: "And is Grandfather not coming to Mass?" The question visibly embarrassed her. She replied: "The Good Lord knows who is good and who is bad. He knows everything. He never makes mistakes, and he is truly just. He will not punish those who have not been truly wicked." Whew! What a relief! Grandfather will therefore be saved; it was impossible to find in him any more wickedness than there was night in plain of day. Yes! But then...the catechism condemned to Hell those who refused Mass and confession. Was the catechism therefore wrong? And if it were wrong on this point, what was one to think of the rest? I was not a man to be able to live with compromises that we somehow patch up gradually as they crack. I have since learnt that it is sufficient for the vast majority of those who believe simply to be believers. They are happy again if they do not voluntarily blind themselves in order to deny the crack.
I'll write no more on the subject of religion. This relationship to events, occurring before my seventh year and so intensely lived that they have left me with such vivid memories today, must suffice to convince that it is as unjust to call me an adept of a "German philosophy", as it is to pretend that Breton nationalism is a creation of Germany. If it is found that the Germans have thought in a manner analogous to mine, this proves at most our similarity. If it is found that we and the Germans have fought the same enemies, this proves at most the concordance of our interests. More than anything else, I am able to testify-and those who know me know this-that considerations of political expediency would not lead me to distort my testimony, thereby depriving this writing of the character that makes it most valuable to my own eyes. Because I seek my brothers and my children; I seek my true fellows. How can they grow on a tree of lies?
2. You are Breton!
One fine afternoon we were in the cemetery at Ploudalmézeau when the bells started tolling strangely. "It's war," my father said. "Let's go home."
"What's going to happen?"
"All the men will go as soldiers because the French are going to fight the Germans."
"Because they want to make war on us, they want to invade us, kill our people, burn our houses, take our land and steal our money."
This was the first time I'd heard talk of the Germans in a concrete manner, but I knew already that their country was far away and no danger directly menaced us.
In November we moved to Brest, to a little ground-floor flat on the rue de la République. I entered into a class of ten at the Lycée,7 where it was my destiny to spend twelve years. Then Papa went off to the war. It's no use telling what propaganda we made, and how I detested those barbarian Huns who had already stolen Alsace-Lorraine from us, those repugnant, bloodthirsty cowards, those frightful heretics who insulted the Virgin Mary, those hideous monsters who cut the hands off little children, killing, pillaging and stealing, who had thrown back in victory our heroes bathed in heavenly light, virtue and sacrifice, who were comforted and sustained by Joan of Arc, the Good Lord, all the saints and the guarantee of Paradise.
It was the following year, my eighth, that my Breton question took a new step: I had already learnt that our country was called Brittany, and that it was an old province of France, among many others of similar sort; and that which was reputed to be French, beyond its intrinsic superiority, was applicable to all of France, whereas that which was Breton, beyond its despicable character, was confined to Brittany alone.
In our class, there was a wall map of France above the table, and I passed a good portion of my time contemplating it. Maps have always interested me. Brest was marked upon it, but not Ploudalmézeau, which caused me some disappointment. St.-Malo and Nantes were also marked, as well as Brittany, a large word curving downward, commencing not far from Brest and finishing below Rennes. Also near Nantes and the end of the word Brittany commenced a smaller name, Anjou. This was a province smaller than Brittany. But was Nantes-which seemed an equal distance between the two words-in Brittany or Anjou? Was I perhaps born in a region that bore such a pretty name? Impossible to judge from the map. Strongly intrigued and resolved to have a clear answer, I dared one day to ask my mother coming home from class:
"Mama, I was born at Nantes, right?"
"Yes," she said. "At Nantes, Quai de la Fosse."
"Is Nantes in Brittany, like Brest and St. Malo?"
"Of course," she replied in a convinced tone. "Nantes is in Brittany and you are Breton!"
"You are Breton!" That was the first time my mother had addressed that adjective to me in person. It fell upon me like a stone into a pond. Until now, indeed, the adjective "Breton" had served to characterise the Other: it was applied to the language that I did not speak, to the costume that I did not wear, to the countryside and villages, to the peasants and the fishermen, to the ignoramuses and hicks, to Others, that is to say, but not to Me... Me, was I not solely French? Suddenly I was Breton as well? On reflection it seemed to me all my relatives must be Bretons too, just like grandfather and grandmother. That was logical, after all, since they knew Breton, and grandmother and my aunts wore Breton costume. On the other hand there was no real contradiction, since Brittany was only an old province of France. That all fit together nicely. The sole novelty was that I was Breton too. But aside from the local character and the subordination of the term Breton to the term French-the one reigning luminously over the future and the other condemned to the ashes of the past, to the grandparents, to the "old" province confined to ignorance and the vastness of the countryside, being in the "process of disappearing", an image of which was taking place right in our own family; and grandfather found it good, and everyone was happy with it. Was it not Progress itself that was making us Frenchmen, eternally superior?
Nevertheless, I had the key for what followed: I was Breton, and I certainly did not despise myself. That which was Breton was not necessarily despicable. It was only despised...maybe even just misunderstood? The door was open to all revisions.
3. Brittany is big!
Around 1917 was the height of the U-boat campaign. We lacked crews. The maritime conscripts were retired from the front. My father, who was a sergeant and had been in the line along the Somme and in Champagne, therefore returned to the Second Depot at Brest. A short time afterwards he was demobilised, and received command of a very small and antiquated example of a Brest Steamer, the Hoche, which did the twice-weekly service between Brest and Châteaulin. It was interesting, this Hoche! It even had a little dinghy with an oar that Francis and I would take down and paddle all over the first pool, then the second and the third and up to the southern jetty facing the Santé, with no fear of being torpedoed. The dastardly Boche8 submariners wisely kept away from Goulet,9 and anyway we knew how to swim... What marvels were in those pools, above all around the month of May; mudcrabs which we caught with a curved pin baited with a bit of rotten meat, big starfish which we snared with a boathook, multicoloured jellyfish and all sorts of tiny, delicate and transparent marvels which we caught with a bucket, mussels, barnacles covering the fixed moorings... We would descend into the deckhouse with its two bunks, and from there we would go see the engineer, Mr [sic] Mahé, covered in oil and grease, who polished his tiny machinery: the boiler, the grand cheval and the petit cheval.10 The Hoche also piloted American ships. It was then that I ate for the first time snowy white American bread and chewed their chewing gum. I had seasickness several times, one time above all near the main channel where we stayed several endless hours dancing along the stationary hull of the battleship Pennsylvania. The Hoche had four or five hands, and all knew how to make holes in American sacks and crates. We never lacked sugar, chocolate, flour or petrol because my father was a good family man. The voyages to Châteaulin also brought back meat, butter and eggs, because the merchant passengers who refused to sell these to the crew soon found that unfortunate manoeuvres resulted in a chain falling on their panniers of eggs or a muddy boathook in their pats of butter...
One time, during the holidays, we all went out onto the floatboard with my father. Up to Landevennec we were accustomed to the spectacle. My mother was seasick, as usual. Thereafter, the meeting of this river with the tide was a magnificent adventure. We would pass very close to islands and nearly touch the high cliffs of bluffs. Further on we would pass between flowering apple trees. Further still were pretty pastures with cows almost within reach. My father would entrust me with the helm and I learnt how to steer between the red and black buoys. Then we would pass the locks and debark at Port-Launay, or Milin Wern in Breton. We would eat and stay at Mrs. Yvinec's place. In the evening we would cast out lines, and from the floatboard we would reel them in full of eels. Hidden under a projection of the bridge there were also a multitude of bizarre fish species that I'd never seen before, because they were freshwater fish-the tide not rising above the lock. This was the result of a nocturnal and illegal haul by the sailors, and of which my father had been well aware. Then we cast off lines and the Hoche continued to Châteaulin where we offloaded the sacks of sugar, the crates of merchandise and the barrels of petrol for the grocery store owned by Miossec. We headed back to Brest by night, under the watchful eyes of the stars, and the Hoche carved a marvellous phosphorescent wake through the calm sea. I had the honour of taking the helm and re-entering by the south channel, guided by the white arc of the lighthouse beneath the castle...
And I was able to state one thing: this entire odyssey took place in Brittany. From the other seacoast, as we called it at Brest, as far as Port-Launay and Châteaulin, Breton was spoken also. Châteaulin figured on our maps at the Lycée. How! Throughout this long voyage, it was only this little distance on the map. But Brittany was at least ten times bigger yet! I would never have believed from maps that this was such a big country.
Little by little, my estimation of the worth of things Breton thereby modified itself.
4. The Final War.
I was ten years old when the war came to an end. For quite a while we had known it was won. One Thursday (?) morning, coming out of the Lycée, I passed by the Champ de Bataille around eleven o'clock. One or two hundred people were gathered around the Dépêche.11 A gno12 came out with the little blackboard and hung it up without haste, adjusted his spectacles unhurriedly, pulled out his stick of chalk, read his paper and begin slowly to write. The people spelled it out slowly and surely: The Ar-mis-tice has been signed. They wanted no more; the women uttered unharmonious exclamations and some among them pulled out little Tricolore flags which they waved ridiculously above their heads. The spectacle seemed to me in bad taste. What effect could this have? I asked myself. Didn't they know that the war has been won for a month or two already? Without doubt I had prayed with all my heart that the Boches would be defeated, but this was already done and dusted. I returned home, then at 17 Place du Château, and announced the news to my mother: "They've announced that the war is over." She evinced hardly any enthusiasm, nor even astonishment. What would that do, anyway? Everything conspired to deceive me. How could the victory of our pure heroes, sustained by all the Saints and the crushing of the Boches, those vile serpents, how could this event so colossal, upon which everything had depended for years, simply pass by in so bland a manner? The sky hadn't fallen, the earth hadn't trembled, the sea hadn't heaved and the era hadn't changed. There had been nothing at all out of the ordinary. It appeared that the World Powers considered it negligible and that it affected them not at all, yet at the same time this was nothing less than the Victory of Justice, of Morality, Virtue, Heroism, Liberty, Democracy, the Minority Peoples, the Oppressed, of France and its Allies, etc., etc., over their repugnant and dark antagonists. Did the Good Lord by chance lose interest? Did it signify that this collection of all the Values of the World meant hardly anything? I went to sit at my desk, by the window where I had beneath my gaze the Cours Dajot, the basin of the nautical roads, the countryside of Plougastel and the île Ronde, past it the countryside of the peninsula and, crowning it all, the three summits of Menez Hom. This was my country. But, just like the Good Lord, it had not moved. I decided to act like them; I didn't want to go down to the town and stayed that afternoon doing my homework in the house.
And then, who was going to bring us Peace, for the maintenance of which we had fought so hard?
It brought us new teachers. It sent away the Americans and all the throngs of Poles, Kabylians13 and Portuguese who had accompanied them. It returned Alsace-Lorraine to us, which ceased in the new maps to be an unfinished task, and made appear a multitude of new states in Central and Eastern Europe. Any difference in language conjured up a State, which we sang the praises and Resurrection of all the more as it consecrated the abasement of the ex-empires of Germany, Russia, and the bonfire of Austria-Hungary. The new situation was moreover more favourable to the projects of the heirs of the Capetians. That interested me prodigiously.
The following year brought us President Wilson, who disembarked on the Cours Dajot. I slithered my way to the front row in order to see this great man. After an hour of waiting a covered car passed by in five seconds flat, followed by a great number of others. This glabrous financier, that commercial grimace which he wanted to be a smile but which resembled a ferocious rictus...that's it, Wilson? Decidedly I had no luck.
Another thing annoyed me greatly. Everyone said there would be no more war. "The war to end all wars is over", wrote the Dépêche. Thanks to the League of Nations, war has become impossible. If a State wants to make war, the whole World united will fall upon it; it would soon be wiped out. Without doubt, without doubt! So then, had the World of Men taken its definitive form? France would not enlarge itself any further, as it had without cessation since Hugues Capet? History had finished, closed, buried, before attaining its goal? This was a novelty indeed, but this mummification of the world was a negative novelty. What were they going to do now if the Greatness of the Fatherland, Heroism and all the Virtues that had led us to Victory became obsolete? And what would serve Justice if one could no longer combat Injustice? What would we care about? Sport? That's pretty dull. Saying prayers? Not very exciting. Work? Without doubt, but why? Cultivate the Arts? That's amusement for buffoons! Further the Sciences! Ha ha! It had the future within it but not, I thought, of the Pasteur-Vitamins kind, about which they kept badgering us. Aviation didn't attract me; I would have needed a lot more: at least a trip to the Moon or the planet Mars.
Meanwhile, and in spite of the SDN,14 there was war in Ireland, war in Russia, war in Turkey, war in Poland, war in China, then the Rif War; once more war in Syria, etc. "Prussian militarism is the sole obstacle to World Peace" proclaimed patriotic posters during the war (not those of 1939, but of 1914). It seemed that all the evidence proved them wrong.
5. Brittany should be independent.
Around my thirteenth birthday we spent our summer vacation at Porsall in a cottage on the farm of our cousins the Kerjeans of Kerorlaes. One fine August day, around noon, as I returned from the beach of Porz ar Vilin Vras, my mother came bearing a letter from her husband. She said to me: "Your Papa's boat, the Orconera, has berthed at Bayonne for a few weeks. You have already had all three prizes for excellence in your classes this year. Well, what would you say if we went there? Then we could also go to Lourdes..." The most beautiful fairy could have appeared to me and I would not have been more delighted. I paled horribly and could not utter a single word, but I suppose my appearance served to inform her because she smiled and continued, "All three of us will go; Francis and we two. Albert is too little; he'll stay at Ploudalmézeau."
I was over-flowing with enthusiasm as ever I had been on the way back to Brest. Two days later, around eight o'clock, laden with the multitude of packets and bags of provisions that had to be part of every maternal voyage, we took our places in the BIG train whose manoeuvres in the station I had been forced, since my fifth year, to content myself with observing form above, perched on the boulevard's breastwork. What marvels! At Kerhuon, the viaduct above the cove. At Landerneau, Mama showed us on the opposite bank of the Elorn the establishment of the Calvary where she had been educated by the cloistered nuns. Then we passed close to a Menez Hom grown enormous and menacing. How could it be the same we saw from Brest? Further on the bridge at Lorient... By evening we were at Nantes. Mama showed us as we travelled the house on the Quai de la Fosse where she had brought me into the world. "There, at the corner of the street, above the pharmacy," and then the Church of Saint-Pierre (?) where I was baptised. We left Nantes in darkness. Brittany had tired our curiosity. I slept badly. The next day around noon we were in Bordeaux. Another change of train. I remember a sweltering heat as we travelled across the interminable pine forests of the Landes. Finally, that evening, Bayonne.
My father had booked us two rooms at the Darbonnens'. They had a strange accent, and their cooking was strange, too. For the first time I had lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes... products unknown to my familial cuisine and which did not agree with me at all. We went to Biarritz where the sea was warm but very blue; the reddish sand and the khaki "boulders" struck me as strange and dirty, far from being worthy of their Breton homonyms. And then those teeming, clamorous crowds... We visited Pau and its castle which greatly impressed me. Naturally enough Lourdes also, which disappointed me, except for the ascent up the funicular to the Pic du Ger, but it had no snow. I wanted to go higher, where the snow would be...
The greater part of our meals in Bayonne we took on board. The chief mechanic had also had his wife and two small girls join him. The chief mate was also joined by his wife. Everyone ate together. One day, my father made the remark that everyone was Breton with the exception of the chief mate's wife, and joked to her: "Brittany should be independent." Everyone else laughingly approved, and this woman retorted: "And Gascony too, therefore!"
But me, I did not laugh. That paternal remark fell upon a sensible point. It had profoundly impressed me without my being able to determine whether I was at heart satisfied or scandalised. Maybe the two together. But what were they to make of France, then? To be possessed of such an idea, did it not already suppose that the work of the Capetians could be rolled back? Was it not to respond "no" to History, and even to Progress?
I had certainly not been capable of inventing this idea myself at this time. But here it was sown, and although it shocked all my education, it felt so pregnant with consequences that it had to be deepened further, if only to reject it definitively.
Instead of seeing it shrink, however, I saw it take form. I no longer despised that which was Breton; I knew that we were worth as much as the Slovaks and Lithuanians. Did we not officially welcome everywhere-and did I not welcome myself-the resurrection of all the Smaller States? Had the war not itself been fought to liberate the little peoples, to permit them to develop their cultures and their languages menaced by Germanisation, Russification... even Anglicisation in Ireland... why not Gallicisation? It was undoubtedly at work in Brittany... It was true that it was for the good of the country, but was that so certain after all? I had already been obliged to admit that France was no longer the premier nation of the world in all domains. And then if Breton was all the same the last heir of the Gauls, the last survivor of the combat of Vercingetorix, shouldn't it then be delivered from this pitiless Caesar?15
I did not know what to think anymore. In reality, my heart had already moved on, but all my thoughts were to revise, all my education weighed upon my reason, which hesitated. Deepening did not lead to firmer ground. One must look deeper still, but Good God! The question was too important, and I would finish by having a clean breast.
Returning to Porsall we passed through Rennes. I knew this was the former capital of Brittany. This was the first time I set foot there. Waiting for the train to Brest, we went out onto the Place de la Gare. It was sweltering hot. We sat ourselves on a bench. I tried to open my eyes to penetrate this mysterious capital, but saw only the dusty boredom of the Avenue de la Gare, and that badly because I suffered double conjunctivitis that my mother called a strike of the air in the eyes, for which she knew no other remedy than patience.
6. Breton, and not French!
From that point on things happened quite fast, and although the decision wanted no point at which to emerge again, the times brought me new subjects of reflection and allowed my conceptions otherwise to reorganise themselves. Now I was irritated when other persons, my books, the class, the Dépêche or French literature expressed contempt for that which was Breton; that is to say definitively to myself. This was quite frequent. As I found myself in a reactive period, they made me more and more antipathetic, but I did not discuss it; I didn't know how to discuss it; I hardly knew that one could discuss what one held in one's heart.
Also, I was not naturally bold; quite the contrary. As proud as I was, I was nevertheless timid. My distrust towards my abilities at that time hardly permitted me to act alone on such a question. It required an example to come from outside, an example in which I would recognise myself. Then I would be free.
It came, this example, in the shabbiest circumstances, but what does it matter how the match ignites the blaze?
The following year, which must have been the year 1922, a similar voyage-to Rouen this time-had come about through similar circumstances and events because I had obtained the prize of Honour of the City of Brest, conferred upon "the student of the third grade who displays his moral worth". It was the return leg of this trip that produced the inevitable. The hazards of travel deposited us in the middle of the night at a small station at Serquigny in Normandy. Despite its Celtic name, this place had nothing either pleasant nor tempting. We had to wait for quite a while in the company of half a dozen other travellers. Among these was a civilian in a state of disordered dress, coarse, in a state of evident inebriation. He wore a sailor's cap, carried a naval sack, and escorted a young girl of eight or ten years who whispered not a word. But what a man! He banged on, gesticulated and did not stop shouting until the arrival of the train: "I'm Breton, me! I'm from Saint-Malo! Breton and not French! Breton and not French!" An employee of the station, an open Breton-speaker in exile, attempted in vain to converse with him in Breton. He tapped him on the shoulder: "Yes, chum! You're Breton, too? That's good! Me, I'm from Saint-Malo! I don't speak brezonek,16 but I'm Breton all the same; Breton and not French!" He didn't stop expounding his credo, and I knew enough English from the Lycée to understand his refrain. I can assure you it immediately made me perk up, and that these blows of the hedge-bill severed my old worn-out lines. In three seconds I became free. The night was lit up and Serquigny had deserved its name.
For a moment I could have embraced the man, if he had sobered up and washed, but for the world I could not do anything-what am I saying? -I could not have even expressed a remark and I indeed did nothing at all. Neither my mother nor anyone knew that I repeated, at the same time scared and excited, "Breton and not French, Breton and not French". Did I not have enough to do now, carrying this lamp through my memories, my education and my projects?
I was too busy living the moment to realize the eminently Celtic character of the show, a station employee tenaciously pursuing his speech with this man in a language he did not understand-this possessed drunk so warmly endorsing an interlocutor that he was not even listening to-and a well-raised altar boy collecting religiously the gospel of the drunk... was it highly sensible, ridiculous, crazy, or all these at once? Celtia is living still, you see, despite Malmanche and Riou.17
In October 1922 at 14 years of age I returned thus to the class of Seconde18 armed with what one calls political convictions. If they were political I couldn't say, but as far as convictions went they were already solid since they had already begun to reorient my life and organise my future projects. To start with, they made me leave aside the second offensive of my ecclesiastical vocation through realisations, chief of which was that I was strongly attached to the World and to Brittany in particular; second of which was that if I were to devote myself in totality to my new radiant goal I had to conserve as much as possible my freedom of manoeuvre. What can I say? You're Celt or you're not: it's all or nothing.
This personal Bretonism lived long enough that I can remember it well. The microscopes of Poincaré, then the vigilant guardian of French unity, could not have uncovered the famous Hand therein,19 nor even a trace of the fingernail on the little finger of Germany, because I had retained intact all of the Germanophobia that he had inculcated in me. I didn't know at all about Breiz Atao,20 that Cyclops that had barely risen on my horizon and would fall upon my little personality and assimilate it in a jiffy, upsetting all my plans... until later. I lived in myself, building my plans and confiding them to no-one.
It may seem strange that during all this time I did not confide in anyone, even my mother. This is because at first I was very shy and it cost me a lot to reveal my intimacy. Confession had for me the character of a penance: the leap into this element of redemption was to me as disagreeable as a dive into water, an aversion I inherited from my grandfather and my other relatives who, all being sailors, found themselves sufficiently saturated with this liquid. Moreover, I was already aware of the cost of confiding one's most delicate thoughts to someone who does not feel the same way, and I could only suppose that this was the case since no one around me seemed to manifest any reaction similar to mine.
This lack of external approbation did not affect me significantly and my convictions were all contained within my self and not in Others; leaving aside the bare impossibility I was faced with, I did not see the necessity of putting a salve on my solitude; doubtless, I could fathom that other Bretons were built like me; and thus they could also find their mariner from St. Malo or whatever else; then, when the time was ripe, we would meet and each would bring as a dowry his life, his persona, and his means, such as they were.
In the meantime, I had to get organised as if I were the only member of my species. My duty was thus to build up my power so that my will could be realised; one more motivation to be the best at everything in my class.
While I could have been accused of being overly judgemental towards myself, I was equally harsh toward those around me; and much good it did to me, as experience taught me later on. First, the Breton people that I knew, that was all I knew. I knew instinctively that you couldn't expect much from them, that, like the poor, they wanted things brought to them, and first and foremost the most material of things. This instinct, I will not disavow it today. Our Sovereign, the People's Will, wants to sell high, buy low, not pay taxes, be entertained once in a while and live in quiet comfort. Dug out of Her hole, She is willing to make all the concessions, all the sacrifices, including of Her Breton characteristics if not of French unity. To rely on Her to support a movement of resistance to the State is already asking for much; to rely on Her to lead an offensive against the State is a perilous delusion; the principles defended by Gandhi and others may obtain somewhere but in Brittany they are a dangerous mirage. I could see for myself the importance of the State, I knew that we would never be able to accomplish anything in Brittany without first acquiring a State.
To acquire a State, that meant to do away with the French State. But how could that be done? As a good Celt, I could not even fathom that it could be possible to infiltrate it and then destroy it. My solution was direct. I knew, from experience, that France, as much as she pretended to be republican, was more than anything one and indivisible, the worthy daughter of the vulture Hugues Capet; she would not let go of her prey until she exhausted all her energy; she would always find Syrian-Vietnamese cases that she would support manu-militari until she would be ejected in a dirty way.
The might we needed was the might that does not deceive, a real might, naked like Truth: military might. Only this would deal with the issue and the sooner we got to it, the less we would lose time, ink and spittle. And anyway, wasn't I just simply arguing for a rapid and lasting peace just like France was offering Algeria and other places...
How to acquire this military might? There again my approach was not very democratic. As alone as I was, I did not see myself as necessarily outclassed by the entire French Imperium. Once I had gained access to the scientific means of the Solitaire of the similarly-named island,21 I knew that its entire immensity would not weigh much when confronted by me. I didn't think any less of myself...! Thus Science to discover, Science to gather financial means and others, Science to accomplish. In all ways and on all sides: Science.
This program was audacious-audacious and premature-but I set it in motion boldly. Even though science did not hold much appeal for me, I abandoned, not without regrets, the Arts; I restricted the subject of languages to what the program required from me and wrapped the whole in a disdainful discretion directed at those close to me.
I did not, however, neglect the Popular Will. Once I had succeeded, when I had given my compatriots a life as comfortable as the one they had but with the chance to be proud of themselves and to grow the Breton way, freely, I knew that they would discover me as a great man, a benefactor to the patrie, if not to humanity. In any case, this was nothing compared to the difficulty of, first, defeating French power.
The adversary was thus clearly defined; that was key to the struggle; the means also. Preparations were starting and would likely last for a long time. In the meantime, it was pointless to talk about it, pointless to draw scorn and suspicion by revealing my long-term projects. When I was ready, then I would declare war.
And now that the pot was placed in the fire, as it were, one could occupy oneself with the theory of manoeuvre.
8. The first toll of the bell.
The summer of 1922 had already provided me with something new: the discovery in the attic of my aunts' house of a Franco-Breton dictionary by Troude that had belonged to my late grandfather. Did Breton therefore have dictionaries like other languages? I had imagined it more uncultured.
Reading the preface was for me very useful. As for the rest, it was only Breton-French!
I did not consider it necessary then for me to learn Breton; this was not indispensable in order to combat France. My victory would assure the future of Breton and provide it with the circumstances favourable to its expansion. If I failed it would be too bad. I would just disappear. Others could start over, at least as long as Breton survived. As long as that was the case, there was still hope.
This attitude lasted until the following year. At the recommencement of classes in October 1923, I began learning Spanish as a second language. Our teacher was a woman, Mme Dubreuil. She asked us one day who knew Breton. Of the twelve to fifteen or so students present, there were only three or four who knew it, of which one was Jean Rohou. That pained me, and it pained me even more that she declared she found it very good that a young man of our country knew Breton.
Must it therefore be learned? After all, it could not be more complicated than learning English or Spanish. Grandfather had started learning French at age twelve and I had turned fourteen at school; but he, he'd had a schoolmaster to teach him. Where could one find a schoolmaster who would volunteer to teach one Breton? Did such a person even exist? In any case, I had to wait...
And then two arguments were slowly making their way through my brain. We always heard it affirmed that Breton was disappearing. This process had the ability to wreck all my plans. If I knew it, would it not still be living so long as I knew it myself? It depended upon me to ensure that we did not see it disappear, to maintain its possibilities at least until my final hour. This was already a result.
And anyway I wanted to extend its reach. I wanted people not to abandon it; that is to say, not do as I had done. I was exactly the bad example I sought to combat, in that I had not relearnt Breton. This vexatious situation must not be prolonged, but I could not see the means by which I could extricate myself from it. My light stock of Breton expressions was expanding only with extreme slowness.
Desperate to find a solution I had recourse to maternal resources. One fine day at the end of the year 1923 I found an opportunity to say to her: "Mama, see here! I want very much to learn Breton, but I don't know how..." She must have already sensed this and provided me a solution on the spot. She who never gave us money except for a single penny a week to hoard, she offered me the inseparable largesse of a five-franc note and said: "Go to Derrien's place, rue de Siam, and ask them for a book to learn it. Do you think such a book exists? Yes, probably... and mind the change!" I'd never thought it was so simple. It was starting to get dark. I bounded to Derrien's bookshop with a fear that they might already be closed. But not yet! Out of breath, I detailed my request to the old lady. And yes, they had it! From a dark and dusty nook she brought out not only one, but two, three, many volumes of different types. I chose a copy of Vallée22 and, seeing as it cost only three francs fifty, I was emboldened to acquire, despite my mother's instructions, a venerable Divizoù Gallek ha Brezonek23 which cost then only ten pennies.
I returned triumphant with my booty. My mother took the book, stopped at a Breton phrase, spelt it out laboriously in a high voice, then, after a brief instant of perplexity concluded: "Ah, yes! But it's bizarrely written and difficult to understand." My mother spoke Breton fluently, but had never learned to read it. With this discouraging judgment, she closed the book and abandoned it entirely to me.
9. The second toll.
The newspaper read in our family was the illustrious Dépèche de Brest. I was greatly interested in foreign affairs as viewed through this telescope. I thought almost exactly as its directors did, as my conflict did not exceed the limits of Brittany. The rest of France and the World were not affected by it. Resolved as I was to pursue the Breton State and the French power that placed our culture in peril, I had kept my old attitude insofar as those problems that went beyond the Breton frontier were concerned. Like all French patriots, I was a furious Germanophobe, a little pro-English on the surface with some hesitations, and pro-American with a certain contempt doubled with a heap of jealousy. Altogether it was an unstable situation, and is still so among many Bretons, even nationalists; in fact it evolved quite quickly.
America was withdrawing from the game, England was very prudent, only France manifested a vigilant activity: she occupied the Saar and the Ruhr, stirred up the Poles and Romanians against the Russians, fomented Little Ententes against all the defeated powers, whined about the English profiteers who stole Mosul and Palestine, throughout Europe and beyond. She was victorious, Ah, yes! She hadn't lost anything. She had acquired Alsace-Lorraine, Cameroon, Togo, Syria and the continental suzerainty of Europe. Hugues Capet could sleep peacefully.
Following her example, I concluded that foreign affairs could be interesting from a Breton point of view, as at last, all being as it was, it was necessary to defeat France and the last war proved that Allies were not useless, in fact they could even be necessary. And too bad for Joan of Arc and Progress!
Which States could become our allies? Who had an interest in destroying French power? Who would want to, and also be able to do it? A tour of France's neighbours wasn't very encouraging. Switzerland and Belgium appeared to me to be excluded. The same was true for Spain and Italy. England wouldn't want to anymore. Only Germany remained a possibility; she had been well beaten, diminished, demilitarised, controlled and everything else; however she still had to be regarded as a great power, because French patriots always had a strong fear about her rising again; they still could not believe they had been victors; they kept repeating it to convince themselves. In reality, and despite all their habitual bragging, they obscured the fact that they no longer had the mettle to wrestle with Germany, that they had in one year lost the war of 1870 and it would have taken much less, should they have been alone, to lose that of 1914 too. What about the other powers? America seemed to me another world. Russia was the same. Patriotic posters vilified, it is true, the famous Eye (of Moscow) along with that more celebrated Hand (of Germany), but this eye was so far away! Decidedly, only Germany was left, and that was very annoying as I continued to firmly detest her. It is more difficult to destroy a sentiment than an argument, whether it's a matter of politics or religion. Was Germany not this nation that preyed upon and sought to devour and Germanize smaller peoples? Happily between us and them there was France, sufficient buffer for a good long while. Later, we would see. And then, finally, the danger of Germanization lay in a hypothetical future, whereas the peril of Gallicization demanded an urgent solution. The Breton language and character were menaced with imminent erasure; was this the act of France or of Germany? This elementary statement must lift all doubts. I started to observe with attention all that happened in Germany, as one examines a viper likely to bite one's enemy.
Here reason was a step ahead of the heart.
10. The third toll.
The school year 1923-24 was that of my preparation for the baccalaureate. This was the first time that I went to confront my vast projects with the reality of the unknown Grand Examinations, and I was stricken with a lively anxiety. If this first step was a misstep, what an exterior handicap and, above all, an interior one! What would be left of my faith in myself? It was obvious that all my efficiency, over the course of my life, would have been struck by a coefficient of reduction, and I felt it keenly. Also, despite my very favourable situation in all examination matters, I decided to neglect nothing in order to succeed and the Vallée newly acquired did not suffer much from my assiduities.
One morning as we were in rows awaiting entry to class, the words of a discussion a few paces from me met my ear.
"That's idiotic!" cried one.
"No," said the other.
"Brittany is French!"
"That's not what the Rennes people say."
They quietened down because our assistant-master, whom we had baptised "Melon", was coming. I had jumped up as though I had been subjected to an electric charge. Before we entered the classroom, I insinuated myself behind the second boy in line, who was a Kervella, and therefore from Plougastell. "What did those people say who you were talking about just now?"
"That Brittany should be free."
"These are the people from Rennes?"
"Yes, there's a league at Rennes." He knew no more and I added nothing.
I had then like-minded fellows! They had even created a league! Things were therefore more advanced than I had believed. It was necessary to see just how much. Indeed, if I was admissible for the written exam that would take place at Brest, I would go to take the oral exam at Rennes!
I was admitted, and my mother notified me that for the first time I would travel without family escort. Furnished with a treasure of 150 francs, I left in the company of three other schoolmates. We took lodgings together, at the Hotel de Brest, of course! The next day at 4pm we were all received and I got the grade Assez Bien.24 Two of us were veterans of eighteen years. They attributed our success to unnamed divinities to whom it was necessary to make a sacrifice according to a certain rite that they already knew. Their assurance did not have too much trouble in persuading us. These rites, of which I knew absolutely nothing, involved libationary stations in all the appropriate locations and terminated with initiatory ceremonies in a temple to which my fifteen and a half years forbade me access. Therefore I was able to quit them without notable incident and reinstate my Catholic faith with my bed at the hotel. The next day, all light, all pride, all eyes and ears, I went about the unknown city alone. I found three or four Celtic inscriptions that to my great joy I stated to be such and even to understand, but not the least symptom of the mysterious "League of Rennes". Despairing to learn any more, I retook the train for Brest that night in the company of my schoolmate Jean le Rest, who had passed his oral exam that day.
11. Breiz Atao!
After the long vacation at Ploudalmézeau, during which I had notably improved my linguistic knowledge of Breton, I entered with certainty into the class of Elementary Mathematics. The exam of which I had made a world of difficulties proved to be easy. I signed up at the same time for a course in Philosophy.
Towards the end of November 1924 I overheard a discussion very similar to that of the previous spring. This time the defender was a student of the Naval course: a 'Flottard'25 as we called them. He had known of it longer than the schoolmate from primary school. He informed me that the people at Rennes published a revue entitled Breiz Atao that one could buy at Robert's place near the Old Theatre. As usual, I didn't pursue the matter openly any further but I was all ajitter inside. Finally I was going to learn something about this mysterious "League of Rennes".
Being a part-boarder I had to wait until the following Thursday in order to pierce the great enigma. Believe me, hardly had eleven o'clock struck than I hurtled out of the Lycée and ran straight down the rue d'Aiguillon to the place indicated. Robert's bookshop was a miniscule boutique beside or near the Brasserie de la Marine. I had never remarked upon it before. Behold! A sign in the window: "One can find here everything on Brittany, even on Bretons. One may recognise them as they read Breiz Atao." No doubt, that's it. I enter with my heart thumping and make my request in my most natural tone which, considering the circumstances, was also the most artificial. The little old fellow responds to me affirmatively, grabs an issue, rolls it up in complete silence and envelops it in a piece of white paper. See me now on the street, my rolled-up paper in my hand. I saw neither sky nor earth anymore, but only this white roll that possessed me from my head to my feet. Never did a fairy ever feel more power from the wand in her hand. So much power and also so much anxiety: that which is written inside, is it as good as I want it to be? These people of Rennes, where no-one speaks Breton anymore, these people of Rennes who want a free Brittany, do they understand by this a Brittany which makes a rightful place for the Breton language? I want to be transfixed right away but I could not all the same unveil the rolled-up paper in the street, in front of all these passers-by. No, no! Only at home! No spectators to my triumphs or disillusions. This would avoid giving these anonymous souls the temptation to pose as judges, of becoming those false creatures who pretend to be disinterested, those impudent beings who pretend to be impartial, those injurious beings who usurp a position that may only be occupied by the peers who have received you, and by the superiors who have been elected by you... I hear my clogs clacking on the granite flagstones. I have therefore been running for a while already? I dart into the rue du Château. I have wings. On gaining the rue Traverse, I hear myself say: "My God! If it's what I think it is, then it's my entire life that I hold in my hands..." Did I speak, or has someone else spoken? I don't know. But now it is me who responds with fervour: "Yes, it's true! It's my entire life that is in my hands!" I fly into the air. In one breath I fly up the four floors that lead to the garret that I share with my brother Francis. I install myself at my window. The sea, Plougastell and the île Ronde, Menez Hom, my country, is there shining and free, before me, with me. It was the only company I could tolerate at such a solemn moment. Trembling and feverish, I respectfully unfurl the rolled-up paper, murmuring instinctive prayers as I do so. There is the cover, black and green on a white background. I open it. My heart explodes in my chest... There it is! There it is! Breton on the first page! Nothing to fear from here on! I don't try to read it, it would take too long. I leap ahead to articles in French... That's it! Exactly it. From end to end! God be praised!
A thunderbolt could have struck and I would not have noticed. But something stronger than a thunderbolt came: a terse and threatening maternal order to come down to eat, and I tore myself away from reading. Nevertheless I could not be prevented from rereading it five or six times before evening.
And that is how, at the age of sixteen years, I made acquaintance with Breiz Atao.
12. First step.
Breiz Atao contained an exhortation to join its organisation, the Unvaniez Yaouankiz Vreiz.26
This appeal resounded within me like that of a trumpet of war: if it sounded assembly, it had to be because plans were already being set in motion, and all that was needed was personnel to engage in operations. On the one hand I was worried that joining such an organisation was premature, and would sacrifice the greater part of my already established projects; but on the other hand I strongly rejoiced to be able to gain time on my forecasts, since I knew how the clock was ticking for the future of the Breton language. All must therefore be attempted in order to transform this attempt into a victorious realisation. I did not consider for more than an instant, and joined, together with 'Flottard', our senior member, Kervella, and a third schoolmate.
Many others approved of us joining, but they stole away, they wanted to wait. Their reaction was incomprehensible to me. How could one not conduct oneself in accord with one's beliefs? It took me a long time to realise that the immense majority of believers of all dogmas are people who "believe to believe" [croient croire], people for whom words stand on one foot and actions on the other, the two feet never working together and revealing therefore their absence of personality.
I joined therefore as a volunteer for the duration of the war.
To my great surprise we were not directed to a barracks, or even to any sort of technical instruction. I had come well resolved to offer without hesitation at least one or two pints of my blood, a foot, an eye, a hand, my complete obedience and my submission at all times. Instead of this I was asked for a very modest sum of money, to peddle the journal, to wear a badge and to attend "faithfully" meetings of a branch that in any case didn't yet exist. I was disappointed that so little was demanded of me. And so, in order to be of service, I had to become the man in the crowd and seek out all occasions to do the old "have you seen?". This suits certain ages and temperaments. As for me, it gave me a deep horror. Alas! I'd come to kill the Enemy, and fell instead into a war of Words...
Far be it from me to pretend that the notion of making propaganda has no utility! But as a new member, I had had a completely different utilisation in mind than being a recruiting sergeant. Above all I had come to obey and to execute. I knew it was necessary, and I told myself that the rest would come afterwards and I needed to have patience... a virtue with which I have always been well endowed. With a deep sigh I forced myself to do that which was asked of me. The young are so malleable... I remember still that one of the next few issues had expressed the danger of not being able to continue appearing, apparently owing to lack of funds, at which I donated all the money I had right there on the spot. It was a little more than eight francs, and I was very annoyed to see that the French State took a significant percentage by way of the postage stamp.
In short, it forced me to recognise that there was nothing here but democratic plans; that is to say to some extent, no plans at all. This absence of long-term plans had at least the advantage of restoring the validity of my own, and leaving me free to plan for the major part of my existence.
It was not long before familial vigilance discovered my pot of gold, as it were. My mother read Breiz Atao and pronounced coram familia that it contained horrors to which she could not subscribe, "because Papa was a volunteer of 1914 in order to defend France". But in place of my condescension that she was in the habit of obtaining without great effort, she roused the combativeness of a young cockerel. Her words and actions were a blasphemy in my sanctuary. Whatever the penalty, I was resolved to treat her as an avowed foe if she did not cease her offensive. She was struck dumb by the audacity and force of my response: "Enough jokes! I myself heard Papa say that he had chosen the post in which he was mobilised!" This constituted an attack on my father, who was present. He could not be bothered to deny it. I noted in his silence the retreat of my mother, which was rather an effect of her surprise at my attitude. Maternal sagacity meant she did not lose her head. In a softened tone she told me that if I tried to receive this revue by post, I could receive it at the house, which was that of the whole family. Wholly surprised and recognising that this constituted then an unhoped-for favour, I declared that that would suit me a lot better, as the employee at the poste restante where I had to go to collect it under the name of the boarder 'Flottard' made unkind remarks each time on account of my youth.
Thereafter I received Breiz Atao at my home, and my mother changed her policies towards me. She gave me a little money. She told me I read too much, and didn't go out enough. She encouraged me to go dancing at balls with my schoolmates. I went therefore to the Kursal-Palace and to the Petit-Jardin à Recouvrance, but the brouhaha of these swarming assemblies gave me no pleasure. I preferred the cinema, having always had a lively predilection for caverns, vaults, churches and the Métro. But that's not where my mother wanted me to go. And her money served my Breton aims. Her policy change came too late, as happens to all that France becomes expert at... Therefore she combined her approach with careful attacks. She accused Breton of causing me to neglect my other studies, because I swotted over my copy of Vallée for half an hour every evening before bed. Here again she had no luck. On this terrain I was solid, and my scholarly success could not be accused of wavering.
Eventually we received from Rennes the instruction to go see Drezen,27 then editor of the Courrier du Finistère. Experienced, chatty, pleasant and not at all busy, he received me always and I became very interested in his conversation. He had me buy Emgann Kergidu,28 a good book with many points of view, the Barzaz Breiz29 and the Histoire de notre Bretagne by Madame de Guerny30 which stirred up my Francophobia, which otherwise had no need of nourishment.
Drezen introduced me to Roparz Hemon,31 who had come as a young teacher of English to the Lycée. Their personal actions and their commentary usefully completed for me what I read in Breiz Atao. I learned to consider Ireland of heroic times as our ancestral sanctuary, and its worthy modern descendant as the elder sister of our Brittany. I learned that our combat against French influence was not isolated, that the Flemish in Belgium and the people in Alsace-Lorraine were clearly more advanced in this than we were. If I applauded without reserve the efforts of the Flemish as I did those of the Basques, the Corsicans and the colonial peoples, the fact that the Alsatians and Lorrainers fought for their German culture shocked me at first, given that I was saturated with Germanophobia! It required the intervention of logic aided by Breiz Atao to expel the French influence from this last bastion that it still occupied within my sentimentality. I dedicate this remark to my German friends, hoping that their pitiable foreign policy will derive some benefit from it.In July 1925 I returned to pass my exams in Rennes. I finished up with Mathematics at the same time with the grade Bien,32 and Philosophy with the grade Assez Bien. This time I knew where the 'League of Rennes' was located, and it became obvious why I had been unable to find it the previous year: on the twisting rue du Vau Saint-Germain leant an old ramshackle house whose entry gave on to a corridor as narrow as it appeared hostile. The darkness which reigned in this corridor hid the secret of a shaky staircase leading to a nondescript landing. From this landing led an uncertain number of sinuous passageways no wider than a man. One of these led to several doors of mean appearance. The poorest among them, which had the air of a lumber cabinet, had stuck to it a piece of paper on which one could read, valiantly inscribed in red, "Unvaniez Yaouankiz Vreiz", along with some complementary information. If my description does not rigorously conform to the truth, may the Gods pardon me! Undeterred, I considered these circumstances from the height of my recent university triumphs and, just like Monsieur Clovis,33 declared: "When I have succeeded, things will not be like this..." Then I knocked on that door. I shook it a little bit. No response. I came back to try again three or four times. Wasted effort. Had they enough money to rent the door, but not enough to rent the premises that must exist behind it? I had to quit Rennes that year without having seen anything other than that shaky door of my dear "League of Rennes"; a door the state of which justified quite well Breiz Atao's incessant appeals for funds.
13. The war of independence.
There are times and places where the family abdicates its rights and duties regarding the education of children. But in the society of the Breton petit bourgeoisie at the beginning of the century, we had rather the opposite situation. Children were kept rigorously on a leash, and youngsters, the eldest ones above all, were able to attain their independence only after an often painful struggle. All things considered, this wasn't so bad. Weak characters were thereby pulverised, becoming creatures at once domesticated, conformist, without initiative, and completely designed to go and make up what is called good society. Others vaccinate themselves in a combat against these benign adversaries, who do not seek to destroy them completely. They emerge from this better armed for future combats against real enemies both within and without, those who will not miss if they are given the chance. They are better prepared also in terms of friendship, because the liveliest friendship is that which is born and evolved in the shadow of an enemy.
I am aware today, as I was at the time, of how much worry I was causing my mother. My development appeared to her unsettling in certain regards. She was a little bit like a chicken that had incubated a duck's egg. She consoled herself perhaps with the thought that I had been born this way, and without doubt she loved me anyway. And I loved her ever more also. I bore the worry I caused her, and felt a presentiment that I would be obliged to cause her still more. The will of the Gods arrays us one against the other. We observed with anxiety the bad blood growing between us but I didn't want to avoid it, and she did not capitulate anymore... Who pretends that the goal of life is the pursuit of happiness?
The summer of 1925 was marked for me by two grand events. The first was a family trip to the île d'Ouessant34 where we spent a week. The fantastically simple countryside of this great island elevated to a superior power the impressions suggested by the spectacle of our Léonnais Armorica,35 with which I had been habituated since infancy. For the first time I understood the face of the "ancient land of my fathers":36 it ceased to me to appear banal, and truly I fell in love with it; for the greatest part of my time there, I was busy making sketches that the French most likely stole in 1944, along with all my personal possessions. This voyage also increased my respect for the Breton language: four hours of ocean and the majestic swell of the Fromm-Veur formed a barrier sufficient to preserve across this vast rift the character of another world, and in this other world I found again the ancient language of my fathers. Here it was no more our dear local language heard here and there and parish by parish as on the mainland. Here it crossed over the Ocean and united foreign shores. Maps gave a false idea. One had to come here to understand that, like Henri IV looking upon the Château at Nantes, I almost cried: "Zounds! The Dukes of Brittany were not just petty nobles..." And it was no petty language, that which reigned upon the Land and the Sea...
Towards the end of August I read in the Dépêche that there were to be great Breton fêtes at Kemper.37 Such a desire compelled me to go, a desire so irresistible that I dared suggest to my mother that we attend. Alas, the family refused; but, seeing my disappointment, my mother thought that she would reward my university successes by allowing me to go alone-with a fifty franc note...
I spent therefore five days in Kemper, attending religiously from start to finish all the events of these "grand Breton festivals of the Queens of Cornouaille",38 only having eyes for the spectacles of the program, enraptured by the variety of costumes and by the dances, binioù39 and Breton songs which I heard for the first time in my life. A chord resonated within me between the confines of life and death. The goal was perceptible, after which it is desirable to die. Perceptible but indefinable and unable to be located, well beyond those poor figures and that teeming kermesse,40 who had not the least idea. In any case, you know if you have experienced it yourself, and if you don't know, I won't try to describe it to you. Imagine the pleasant aspect of the city dominated by Mount Frugy, traversed by the murmuring freshness of the Odet, perfumed by flowering gardens at multiple points along the river and crossed by little bridges-Kemper seemed to me like a delightful Breton paradise.
Upon my return to Ploudalmézeau, I tried very hard to impart my enthusiasm to my family, and to evoke for them all of the splendours I had seen. But they bade me hush. It was of interest only to me. I said nothing, noting with bitterness that I was becoming a stranger. What could I do about it?
"My poor boy," my mother said to me one day, "what did you imagine would be there? We are on this Earth in order to have a job, start a family, raise children..." I looked at her with terror. Did she know what she was saying? Had she not therefore in times past, as a young girl, imagined "anything else", something indestructible that she had thought snuffed out within her and sent back to another world, something else that she rediscovered with fear today in the eyes of her first-born?
I regarded her with consternation, powerless to speak. Is it not such things that one signs with blood and not with words? She must have sensed this herself, as my expression caused her words to die on her lips. "Mama," I'd had the desire to cry, "Don't go any further; don't try to start again; is it not enough for them that you'll be dead? Things aren't like this, don't you know!" She knew it without a doubt, if at present she didn't know it very well. She saw me in danger, daring not to begin again, not knowing what to do. Her fears directed her. After a silence she cried, "Oh, my poor little one! These Breiz Atao will lead you to your end!"
"I don't think so, Mama," I responded, more to ease her worry, and I thought then: "What do you mean my end? And anyway, what can I do about it all? What will be, will be, and that's what I want! If my end must come with it, well... let it!"
Another time maternal jealousy prevailed over these Breiz Atao who stole children-until the time when other mothers would in their turn insult these children... This argument had the result to anger me: "See here, Mama! Who do you take me for? If I have joined them, it's my business alone! They had nothing to do with it, thank Goodness!"
She said to me again: "You'll still have to drop these Breiz Atao before entering Naval College."
"Precisely," I told her. "I have no desire to go to the Naval College."
"What? What are you going to do?"
Is the Global Spread of English Good or Bad?
The English language is one that is very easy to learn. Unlike the most spoken language in the world, Chinese, it does not require most people around the world to learn new numerals. We find other languages also require the learning of new symbols. This is true in German with the eszett (double SS sound but looks like a B) and French with their accents. English as a language does not have these. This means that the language is easily accessible to the many. If we wish to communicate effectively we need all people to be able to communicate in it; even those who have difficulty in learning languages. Therefore having a global language which requires no learning of characters is important.
English has its own peculiar and highly irregular orthography. For instance, "o" in "box" is pronounced not straightforward [o] but [ɒ] in Britain and [ɑː] in the U.S.; "u" in "bud" is not plain [u] but [ʌ]. It's heavily inclined towards non-isomorphic diphthongs such as "light" [laɪt] and "lure" [lʊə], which defies most other language speakers' common familiarity with straightforward pure vowels. Literal phonemes are irregularly dropped, as in "wednesday" [wɛnzdeɪ] and "leicester" [lɛstə]. "th" varies between [θ] and [ð], and both sounds are less than common among other languages.
English also abounds with the kinds of consonant clusters that are completely alien to many languages. For speakers of those Austronesian languages that have no consonant cluster at all, the likes of "sixths" [sɪksθs] prove extremely difficult.
The statement that (the orthography and phonology of) English is "very easy to learn" or "easily accessible to the many" cannot be further from the truth when the learners means international.
There are many alternatives -- natural or artificial languages -- that do not involve uncommon (non-ASCII) letters/characters/symbols other than English.
Is the Global Spread of English Good or Bad?
Unlike in French or German, mistakes that people make in English are easily understood by native speakers. The English language is a simple one with simple sounds. These sounds separate words nicely. It is for this reason that the English find it very easy to understand people from other countries even if their level of language is low. The English language is from Anglo-Saxon origin instead of Latin. Whilst Latin was a beautiful language, it is also a very complex one with elongated words and sentence structures. The Anglo-Saxon language however is one that can be used with very few and very short words. This makes the global spread of English as opposed to other languages a good thing.
Many languages don't distinguish the sounds English makes significant use of. Chinese makes little difference between the voiced and unvoiced consonants. Samoan has no consonant clusters, let alone a word-ending consonant. To native speakers of such languages, the likes of short closed-syllable English words like "kid" and "kit" are just difficult to differentiate.
Isolating languages that do not require the learning of a complex inflection system is probably a preferable kind of international auxiliary language to fusional languages that do require such learning. However, English is not optimally isolating; it still inflects, and in an irregular way even. For instance, while a truly functional isolating language would have a word to periphrasally express past-ness of an event for any predicate, English requires that the verb itself inflect just like in Latin. It doesn't make possible isolating and consistent forms like "go --> [past] go", "see --> [past] see", "love --> [past] love" but fusional and inconsistent forms like "go --> went", "see --> saw", "love --> loved". And this is further complicated by the irregular conjugations for present and past participles such as "going | gone", "seeing | seen", "loving | loved".
Is the Global Spread of English Good or Bad?
In a country like the UK, we are lazy. Foreign languages are not an important part of education because there is the general consensus that everyone in the world speaks English.
The number of students studying languages at school has dropped significantly, and this is a real shame. The study of other languages not only offers up possibilities of work opportunities abroad, but it helps you understand more about another culture, another way of life. Studies have also shown wider benefits of bilingualism, such reducing ageing of the brain.[[http://www.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=brainbriefings_thebilingualbrain]] We are lazy. We don't feel the need to learn about others, their language, their culture. Even if native English speakers do try to learn a new language, people often wish to practice their English, so there are limited opportunities to develop your skills.
This spread also leads to elitism - some elitist schools put stress on teaching Latin/Spanish/French/Urdu/Persian/German/Mandarin apart from English. Knowing a second or third language has perks, giving the impression of being cultured,international,cosmopolitan, sophisticated and civilized.
Why would we want to sacrifice easy communication and globalization/globalisation on the off chance it may make children more interested in learning a foreign language?
And why would we purposely want to make it difficult for people to understand each other, surely understanding each other is more important than learning about their culture but not being able to converse whatsoever.
One-third of the people living in the city of London are from the subcontinent and are at least bilingual(This doesn't take into account the number Chinese,Polish,German,French,etc Londoners). As for the rest of the U.K : Norse languages prevail in rural areas and outside England.
There are a huge number of immigrants(second/third-generation included) in Scotland. Relatively fewer but still plenty of immigrants reside in the rest of the Isles.
The global spread of English also has the opposite effect on non-native speakers of English - it encourages them to learn a second language. Without English, a second language would only slightly increase the number of people you could communicate with. With English (or, if it ever takes off, Esperanto!) there is a stronger incentive to learn the single language that will dramatically improve your ability to communicate.
Far more people are not native English speakers than are, so you could argue that the point falls apart in a wider context than the UK.
Is the Global Spread of English Good or Bad?
As the language of instruction is, in many places, predominantly English; that usually is the language people become most fluent in.
Multi-linguals are likely to only have a more impressive command of one language. There is now pressure for that language to be English and once local languages are less well spoken than English, there will be little point in learning them any longer so they are likely to decline and disappear.
Yes, it can be argued that many former colonies (the British in the subcontinent as an example), have left a legacy where English continues to be used as the language for formal education and formal working life in many cases. However, this means that in many parts of the world, people are growing up bi, or even tri-lingual, which is an outstanding achievement.
Is the Global Spread of English Good or Bad?
The fact is that even if English becomes fully globalised (which it has not yet) other languages will still be used. Though English may be used in business transactions, these people will still go home and speak their mother tongue. If people begin to only communicate in English, a valuable lesson could be lost in manners and respect. Even if there is one common language, it should always be borne in mind how respectful and polite it is to at least attempt to speak the other’s language. In business transactions, the person will have to know their clients language to a greater degree in order to complete this than on a social level. However, with the globalisation on English people will forget this sign of respect and will only speak English. This is a sad day for cultural recognition and mutual respect.
Is the Global Spread of English Good or Bad?
What do you think?